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At least 62 die as forest fires rage in Portugal

Wildfire
Image: Dozens of people have been killed in the blazes

At least 62 people have been killed in a number of forest fires in central Portugal, as temperatures passed 40C (104F).

The Portuguese government said many of the victims died in their vehicles as flames swept over a road between two towns in Pedrogao Grande.

Officials say a lightning strike is believed to have sparked the blaze.

The view of the blaze from the village of Mourisco
Image: The view of one of the blazes from the village of Mourisco

Interior Ministry official Jorge Gomes said at least 30 people were killed in their cars as they tried to flee the fire.

“The smoke cloud is very low, which does not allow helicopters and fire planes to work efficiently, but we’re doing everything possible and impossible to put out this fire, ” he said.

The EU has activated its civil protection efforts to help fight the blaze.

More than 350 soldiers have joined 700 firefighters in the effort to extinguish the flames.

Wildfire
Image: Smoke billows into the sky as the fires rage

About 54 people have been hurt, five of them seriously, including four firefighters and a child.

Portugal has declared three days of national mourning between now and Tuesday, with the government saying the fire has caused “an irreparable loss of human life”.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa said: “Unfortunately this seems to be the greatest tragedy we have seen in recent years in terms of forest fires.

“The priority now is to save those people who could still be in danger.”

This is believed to be the deadliest forest fire since 1966, when 25 Portuguese soldiers perished while tackling a blaze.

A forest fire is seen near Tojeira, Pedrogao Grande, in central Portugal, June 18, 2017
Image: Around 600 firefighters are battling the flames raging in the Pedrogao Grande area

Spain has sent two water-bombing planes to help their neighbour fight the fires.

A number of villages have been evacuated due to the danger, but the extent of damage to property is not yet clear.

The mayor of Pedrogao Grande, Valdemar Alves, said: “This is a region that has had fires because of its forests, but we cannot remember a tragedy of these proportions.

“I am completely stunned by the number of deaths.”

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